The problems with outsourcing police work to cameras

I don’t use a dashcam, despite how useful they can be to prove one’s innocence following a collision.

That’s partly because of the faff of setting one up every time I test a different car, but mostly because of who I might become.

When dashcams first appeared, I didn’t anticipate how they could turn a number of us into – how to put it? – such antagonistic snitches. A bunch of lowdown grasses. Squealers. People thriving on catching other road users making errors and then taking delight in fessing them up online. Could I be that kind of person? Perhaps. Best not find out, I think.

So popular, if that’s the word, is the pastime that it’s encouraged by police services, who appreciate us doing the legwork. They even later release YouTube montages.

In the past week, I’ve also seen videos of a motorcycle rider and a driver both prosecuted for bad behaviour. And in both cases bang to rights too: one careless, one incredibly aggressive.

Both were encouraged into it by the poor behaviour of those around them, either by failing to enter a dual carriageway safely, or by hanging around in the wrong lane until they were undertaken, but that doesn’t excuse the actions. These were rightful, well-deserved prosecutions.

But I’m not sure they’re the only guilty parties in those incidents. There are thousands of videos online uploaded by people who would rather be involved in than avoid an incident they can plainly see coming, just so they can gleefully say they were right when it happens, like a child who taunts a sibling into finally landing the thump that gets them sent to their room. “Ha! Look what I made you do!”

As a motorcyclist and cyclist, I’d rather stay wronged but upright. “I was right” makes for a gloomy epitaph.

It suits police chiefs to appeal for this footage and to use it for prosecutions, though, because it ups their rate of motoring convictions, which, aside from speed camera fines, has stagnated as a result of decades of unforgivable cuts to traffic policing levels. Traffic police represent less than 4% of all police officers – and most are ‘double-hatted’ rather than exclusively policing roads.

In 2017, I interviewed an officer who said I would be “shocked” at how short-handed traffic services are. In his patch, there were frequently just three or four officers for an area of 1.4 million people plus a good stretch of four surrounding motorways. It takes at least four to make a tactical stop. “Without traffic officers, roads become the playground of criminals, idiots and drug/drunk drivers,” he said.

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